Katie Meyer

Gov. Tom Wolf / Flickr

One of Harrisburg’s perennial headaches is heading back to the legislative spotlight as Senate Republican leaders work to push a familiar pension bill through the chamber.

Last session, GOP lawmakers made a late-in-the-game attempt to pass a pension overhaul that would have offered state employees three retirement options—two so-called “hybrid” plans, and a 401k-style plan.

At the time, Governor Tom Wolf indicated he’d sign it. But the plan didn’t get full votes because House and Senate Democrats refused to support it, saying they hadn’t gotten enough input.

Wayne Parry / AP

Pennsylvania’s current budget has a $100 million hole state lawmakers intended to fill with some kind of gaming revenue.

That money never came through.

Even so, Gov. Tom Wolf’s spending plan for next fiscal year optimistically calls for $150 million to be filled with even more unspecified gaming money, and lawmakers don’t seem close to a consensus on what to do. 

The gaming conversation at the Capitol often revolves around whether to legalize and tax online gambling.

Gov. Tom Wolf / Flickr

State House members kicked off their third and final week of budget hearings with an all-day Q&A with education officials.

Gov. Tom Wolf’s proposed plan includes a $100 million boost for general education funding, which returns the allocation almost to its 2011 peak.

But talk has centered on what’s getting cut.

With the commonwealth facing a nearly $3 billion structural deficit, the 2017-18 budget proposal is significantly leaner than Wolf’s last two.

Education Secretary Pedro Rivera noted, that put his department under some pressure.

Gov. Tom Wolf / Flickr

Pennsylvania has long been notorious for its state-run liquor stores and old fashioned restrictions on selling alcoholic beverages.

But last year, the legislature passed its first meaningful liquor reform in decades.

Katie Meyer / WITF

Pennsylvania gets a failing grade for its efforts to protect children from high levels of lead in the water at their schools, according to a report released two weeks ago from Public Interest Research Groups, a national federation of left-leaning, independent nonprofits.

It advises—among other things—that schools install water filters as soon as possible while working on longer-term solutions.

Gene J. Puskar / AP

The state police are facing shrinking ranks and a funding shortage as a slew of troopers approach retirement age.

Gov. Tom Wolf has proposed a $25 per-person fee for each of Pennsylvania's 2.5 million residents in nearly 1,300 municipalities that rely on state police coverage instead of a local police force.

John Bazemore / AP

Pennsylvania has the fifth most hate groups in the US—a title it’s now claimed for the second year running, according to a Southern Poverty Law Center study.

Matt Rourke / AP

After weeks of constituents demanding more access, Pennsylvania Republican Sen. Pat Toomey held an over-the-phone town hall from Washington D.C. on Thursday afternoon.

Katie Meyer

Pennsylvania's Senate Democrats are calling for reforms to the commonwealth's long-standing system of using property taxes to pay for public schools.

It's an initiative that's renewed nearly every session. But now, the group is calling for a special legislative session.

School property tax collections this fiscal year are in the range of $14 billion.

The system has long been criticized for allowing the state's wealthiest school systems to collect far more tax money than their lower-income peers.

AP Photo

At U.S. Senator Pat Toomey's various offices in Pennsylvania and Washington, the phones have been ringing off the hook for days.

Constituents are calling in droves, filling voice mailboxes with pleas for the Republican not to confirm President Donald Trump's cabinet appointees--particularly education secretary pick Betsy DeVos.

But the newly reelected Toomey seems to have his mind made up.

AP Photo

A proposal to extend the statute of limitations on child sex abuse cases is on a fast-track through the state Senate.

It's the exact same measure as a bill that died in the House last session, and for that reason, it's likely to see the same resistance when it reaches the House this time around.

The bill--sponsored by Republican Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati--would eliminate time limits on childhood sexual abuse victims filing lawsuits against their abusers.

Katie Meyer / WITF

In one of the state Capitol’s busy lobbies, there’s a clock that tracks unfunded pension liabilities. All day and night, that clock ticks upwards, adding billions of dollars to Pennsylvania’s debts every year.

The clock’s overseen by a small, dedicated group of pension overhaul advocates and on Tuesday, they dragged it up to the Capitol’s main rotunda to make a renewed call to lawmakers: find a way to halt the clock’s rising numbers, once and for all.

evans.house.gov

Four out of Pennsylvania’s five Democratic congressmen have declared they’re sitting out President-Elect Donald Trump’s inauguration.

They join a growing contingent of more than 50 Democrats opting out of Trump’s ceremony.

One after another this week, Brendan Boyle, Dwight Evans and Bob Brady of Philadelphia, and Mike Doyle of Pittsburgh variously expressed opposition to Trump’s rhetoric and policies, and support for Georgia Congressman and civil rights leader John Lewis.

Lewis prominently tangled with Trump over his own inauguration boycott.

Chris Knight / AP

The three top state row officers—all Democrats—have taken their oaths of office in separate ceremonies.

Auditor General Eugene DePasquale is beginning his second term, while Treasurer Joe Torsella and Attorney General Josh Shapiro are new to their respective offices.

Thanks in large part to the last elected Attorney General—Kathleen Kane, who has been convicted of perjury and obstruction—Shapiro’s election to the office has had the highest profile.

Pennsylvania Department of Corrections

In a surprise announcement last week, the state said it would close two of its prisons.

And while lawmakers and local leaders have begun discussing how the closures could affect their economies, civil rights groups have turned their attention to the conditions inside the prisons.

The state still hasn’t decided which two prisons will close, but the changes will push several thousand inmates into other facilities across the state.

Andy Hoover, with the American Civil Liberties Union, said it’s hard to know exactly how to interpret this.

Carolyn Kaster / AP

The state House has passed a resolution that makes significant changes to its ethics rules.

Scott Petri, a Bucks County Republican and former chair of the Ethics Committee, said the updates have been in the works for the past two years and provide some very necessary clarification. 

He also said it’s conceivable the new rules could have prevented a recent debacle surrounding Democratic Representative Leslie Acosta.

She secretly pleaded guilty to embezzlement in March, kept her seat and then finally resigned on Tuesday after being reelected.

Katie Meyer / WITF

New members have officially been sworn into the Pennsylvania legislature.

The first day of the new session saw further entrenchment of Harrisburg’s partisan divide. Republicans shored up their majorities in the House and Senate, where they’ve often clashed with Democratic Governor Tom Wolf.

Now, lawmakers are turning their attention to legislative priorities in the new session.

John Beale / AP

The Joint State Government Commission is recommending changes to a decades-old domestic violence protection law in Pennsylvania.

The group is pushing for updates that would, among other things, make it more difficult for abusers to access firearms.

Matt Rourke / AP

An independent report from an academic group has given Pennsylvania a dismal ranking in how well it conducts its elections.

The Electoral Integrity Project—which is based out of Harvard University and the University of Sydney—has the Keystone State tied for fifth-worst in the country.

The group ranked states based on 12 criteria, including electoral laws and procedures, media coverage, campaign finance, and district boundaries.

Matt Rourke / AP

The 2017 legislative session has yet to begin, but some lawmakers are already making plans for the new year, and casino-related laws are among those at the top of the list.

A closed-door meeting on Jan. 3 has been planned between lawmakers and representatives from all of the state’s 12 casinos.

When it was passed this summer, the state’s operating budget included $100 million in new gambling revenue, but no bill was ever passed to provide the money.

Baastian Slabbers / NewsWorks

This year saw the end of one of the most dramatic political roller-coasters in recent Pennsylvania history: the tenure of former state Attorney General, Democrat Kathleen Kane.

Kane was convicted of perjury this summer and stepped down from her post, but the controversy surrounding her far predates that.

Governor Tom Wolf / Flickr

The state health department plans to start accepting applications for growers and dispensers in Pennsylvania’s newly-formed medical marijuana program on Feb. 20.

Gov. Tom Wolf / 90.5 WESA

Pennsylvania’s mid-fiscal year budget report has confirmed what the Independent Fiscal Office has been warning for well over a month: underperforming revenues are putting the commonwealth on track for a shortfall of around $600 million.

So how bad is that?

By all accounts, it’s a tenuous place for the state’s bank account to be. But it’s not without precedent.

Matt Rourke / AP

As the state legislature and governor contend with a mounting structural state deficit of more than two billion dollars, the topic of government spending—and the need to make it more efficient—has become inescapable around the Capitol.

Katie Meyer / WITF

The state Department of Banking and Securities has issued a progress report on a year-old program intended to educate Pennsylvanians about financial risks and management.

Katie Meyer / WITF

More than 500 people employed at three of Pennsylvania’s Unemployment Compensation offices are losing their jobs right before Christmas.

The reason was political, and has erupted into a partisan battle.

But behind the scenes at the Altoona, Lancaster, and Allentown UC centers, the furloughed employees and state officials are working make sense of the situation.

The news of the layoffs came November 16th, after the GOP-led Senate declined to vote on a funding bill that had been supported by Democratic Governor Tom Wolf.

Katie Meyer / WITF

Professors at Pennsylvania’s 14 state colleges and universities have voted to approve a contract agreement between the union that represents them and the state school system that employs them.

That contract was hard-fought—a standoff over its terms culminated in a three-day faculty strike in October.

Gerry Broome / AP

 

As the Green Party pushes for election recounts in key states, leaders of Pennsylvania's Republican Party have expressed concerns the delays could ultimately hold up President-elect Donald Trump's inauguration.

But, those fears now appear to be eased — a lawyer for the state GOP has said he's confident Pennsylvania's results will be validated on time.

States are federally required to settle controversies surrounding the appointment of their electors on Dec. 13. Otherwise, their electoral votes may not be deemed valid by Congress.

Katie Meyer / WITF

Green Party supporters were in Harrisburg on Monday to vocally back Jill Stein’s quest for a presidential vote recount in the commonwealth.

Stein, the Green Party candidate, has now filed suit in both federal and Philadelphia city courts.

David Amsler / Flickr

Republican state Sen. Scott Wagner is filing a Right-to-Know request over the layoffs of several hundred state employees.

The York County lawmaker is being blamed by Democratic Governor Tom Wolf and union leaders for being a major cause of the layoffs.

But Wagner contends that Wolf is at fault.

At the end of the 2016 legislative session last month, the GOP-led Senate decided not to vote on a funding bill for the state’s unemployment compensation program.

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